- On January 1, 2015
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Africa has less than 15 per cent the population of the world but has over 70 per cent of HIV and AIDS cases. More than 30 per cent of the world’s poor live in Africa.
The continent earns less than 5 per cent of the world’s income and has less than 5 per cent of the world’s modern industry. But Africa is not poor; it is rich in agriculture and natural resources, far richer than most developed countries.
While the rest of the world has an obligation to support the development of the continent, primary responsibility for changing this situation rests with Africans. So every African anywhere in Africa must be committed to doing the right thing to change this unfortunate situation. When an African is therefore employed by a foreign organisation, paid a salary and given resources to do what they would naturally have loved to, or have an obligation to, do to make Africa move forward, the commitment of the staff must be total and their attitude must be different.
Being the leader of a Danish organisation given this rare opportunity to maximise the contribution of IBIS to the forward movement of Ghana posed several challenges. All the objectives that IBIS has sought to collaborate with Ghanaian organisations to achieve intend to contribute to positive changes in Ghana – increased access to quality education, equal opportunity for women and men, empowered ordinary people asserting their rights etc. But working with a foreign organisation to contribute to develop Ghana is also a strong motivation, the privilege to contribute to do more of what we would love to do.
The above affect how I work. I receive a proposal from a Programme Director to hold a meeting in a given venue. Given the cost of previous meetings held elsewhere this venue is expensive. There is no indication of having considered other venues. Arranging venues for meetings is the responsibility of Administration staff, not PDs and other budget holders. Administration staffs are trained to do so to ensure we get the best value for our money. Directors are encouraged to assert their independence in decision making. Vetoing this decision can send the wrong signal, that the CD is autocratic. But this decision making process flouted policy, disempowered the Admin staff and does not reflect judicious use of resources. So I veto it and explain why. IBIS must be seen to be living what we expect of our partners. We cannot be lavish in spending on ourselves.
The challenge is not only in the cost of services we pay for. It is ensuring that constantly we do and are seen to be doing what is right; that we have policies that ensure accountability; that we do comply with the policies; that we and our partners listen to and give voice to the poor and not speak for them; that we show respect to our partners and give them the lead in collaborating with the affected to determine what to address and how to address it.
Some staff of international NGOs talk down to the Ghanaian civil society partners they work with; because of the power imbalance, a power relationship defined by money and material resources. But if in our small world we exploit the power imbalance, we justify the unaccountable relationship between governments and the governed; a situation civil society works to correct.
The challenge starts with me. I must be the example myself. So I hardly take a float in order not to be tempted to misuse the organisation’s funds. When I have expenditure to claim – refund of medical expenditure, per diem claim etc – I submit my form to Admin and it is subjected to the organisation’s review process; for per diem the form is sent to the office I visited for verification that I am not claiming payment for meals the office provided. I must ensure that I don’t use the organisation’s resources for personal purposes – highly tempting and common practice by those regarded as overall team leaders, even in civil society. Nobody can challenge them. But if we don’t encourage challenge within the organisation we forfeit the right to engage in the human rights based approach to development. If we take advantage of our position to misuse resources we justify the abuse of power by elected and appointed officials. The challenge is to balance encouraging challenge within the organisation against knowing when to put the foot down because the line is being crossed. Using the HRB approach to development requires ceding authority, not just lending it, but monitoring it to prevent abuse and diversion of resources meant for changing the position of the poor and excluded.
My motivation is from two sources; one that I personally have been or that the organisation has been a good model of good practice. Going to bed knowing that one did the morally right thing is motivating. The second source is the health of our relationship with partners and the results we see on the ground, the enduring changes in communities, in individuals; sometimes the positive changes in the relationship between rights holders and duty bearers.
Story by Chals Wontewe, Former Country Director of IBIS